Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Unknown God

A few weeks ago a friend of mine at church loaned me some audio tapes of a three part sermon by John MacArthur entitled "Getting to Know the Unknown God." This sermon series was recorded late 1973 so I am not sure if MacArthur still agrees with everything he said back then, but for the purposes of this post I will assume he does.

The sermon was centered around Acts 17 where Paul enters Athens and sees the altar to the unknown god. He then preaches a sermon declaring Jehovah to be the god that they did not know. John MacArthur's sermon is quite good. He is an interesting speaker. However, there were a few things he said that I take exception with.

MacArthur claims that the only purpose of humans is to know God. He says that people who do not know God have no purpose and no meaning and their lives are not worth living. These people, like Judas Iscariot, would have been better off to not have been born. That is a pretty bold statement. How can he so confidently state such a thing without knowing the inner person of every human on the face of the Earth? What does MacArthur mean when he says a person's life is meaningless and purposeless? Isn't the meaning and purpose of one's life something that is a part of one's own consciousness that can only be determined by each individual for his own self? I know and have seen many people that MacArthur would probably claim do not know God that believe they have much meaning and purpose in their lives. They know people and engage in activities that are very important to them. Other people love them and believe them to be essential elements of their own lives. But apparently this does not matter to MacArthur. For him, the only thing that conveys meaning and purpose onto a person's life is the knowledge of God.

MacArthur goes on to say that there are two types of people: those that know God and those that don't know God.  Of the latter there are two groups: those that know they don't know God and those that don't know they don't know God. The latter group believe they know God, but in actuality they do not. In other words they are deceived.

So what does it take for a person to truly know God. According to MacArthur God can only be known through Jesus Christ. By studying about Jesus and coming to know him better, we can get to know God himself. This is based on John 14:6-8. So anyone who believes they know God through any other means than Jesus is deceived and really does not know God. The thing that has always interested me about such statements is that once a person admits that it is possible to believe something wrongly, they must admit that they themselves could be among that group. In other words, it could be that MacArthur himself is one of the deluded, thinking he knows the true God, but not knowing him in reality.

Another interesting aspect of MacArthur's sermon was that he quoted many times from the book of Jeremiah and other OT books where the writers describe the nature of Jehovah. But how could these OT writers know God? If the only way to truly know God is through the knowledge, teaching, and person of Jesus Christ, how could the OT writers have known anything about God? They knew nothing of Jesus Christ. They may have believed in a coming Messiah, but that was just general information, not a true knowledge of the actual person of Jesus. I say that if the only way to know God is to know Jesus, then we can just chunk the OT because those guys did not know Jesus.

I believe that we cannot with certainty even know whether there is a god or not, let alone know for sure what his attributes are. We all exist on a huge ball in space which is just an infinitesimal speck in the expanse of the cosmos. Humans have the ability to use their senses to assimilate information about the cosmos and draw conclusions via rational thought. However, when it comes to the ultimate questions of "How did the Universe get here?", "Where did we all come from?", and "What is my purpose for being here?", we are all still in the dark just like the thousands of generations that preceded us. This can be a hard pill to swallow, but it is one we must swallow nonetheless. Basically, every person must discover what has meaning and purpose to himself and go about achieving those things.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Perfect Health Care Plan

The national health care debate at the US Congressional level and across the United States of America has reached fever pitch. People are surrounding this issue from all directions just like a tribe of Native Americans circling a wagon train of pioneers. Well, I don't know about you, but I like the plan outlined by several Representatives and Senators that has these features:

No denials based on preexisting conditions
No cap on medical expenditures each year
No rationing of care
Patients get to pick their providers
A cap on cost of premiums

What I'm hoping for is a really low cap on the premiums, say no more than $5.00 per month. But, if it's more than this I will probably not take any insurance and just jump in whenever I develop a condition expensive enough to justify having the insurance. After all, if I can't be denied coverage based on any preexisting conditions, I should be able to do this. But wait, perhaps there will be some sort of waiting period after signup before the benefits kick in. Oh, it doesn't matter anyway. I just remembered that President Obama said that everyone would be required to have health insurance whether or not they want it or can afford it. I suppose there will be help for those who can't afford it. Although if they can keep the premiums down to $5.00 a month, there shouldn't be too many needing the help.

But wait just a minute! I just had an epiphany. How can the government possibly provide or expect insurance companies to provide unlimited health care with no preexisting conditions exemptions and no rationing using premiums that are capped. I am having a hard time seeing how that will work without changing the laws of mathematics. If Congress could just make $2 plus $2 equal $1,000,000, I believe their plan just might work. But I don't know how to make those numbers work. I know they don't work at the casinos. But perhaps our noble politicians have a trick up their sleeves.

One trick I've heard is to fund some of the health care plan by cutting fraud out of Medicare. Nice! But if it is possible to cut X number of dollars of fraud from the Medicare system at a cost of less than X number of dollars, why haven't they already done this? Is cutting wasteful spending out of the budget only important when we're in an economic crisis or we're wanting to start another spending plan? Also, I have heard that Medicare is drowning in debt, having trillions of dollars in unfunded future obligations. Won't all the fraud savings have to be put towards those obligations to help keep Medicare afloat? And won't that still not be enough to salvage it?

It's beginning to look like the only way to make ends meet with the proposed health care plan is to simply limit the payout to doctors and drug companies to the amount that is taken in from premiums. But if the premiums are too low, the payouts will be too low, and there will not be much incentive for these people, especially the doctors, to put themselves through 8-10 years of college and intern hell and accumulate hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt. That means fewer doctors, which means more patients per doctor, which means the average visit time will have to drop from about 10 minutes per patient to perhaps 5 minutes. There's already people complaining that 10 minutes is insufficient time to consult with a doctor. They'll be yelling if it drops to 5. Oh well, I guess we can always get the government to force the doctors to work 24/7 under threat of imprisonment. I'm not sure who will treat them when they keel over from exhaustion.

I don't think there is any decent person who wants to see another human being go without needed health care. I certainly don't. But the harsh reality of this cold, uncaring Universe is that some things are just impossible. This may be one of those things. One thing seems certain to me. The only way we have any hope of paying for unlimited health care for everyone is to unfetter economic activity and allow productivity to increase tremendously. The increase in wealth, and the resulting increase in tax revenue may just be able to fund unlimited health care, although I am still skeptical. Feel free to comment if you believe I am missing something.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Lying to the Dying

Several days ago I was watching an old episode of The Rifleman ("The Prodigal") on TV. In this episode a criminal is at Lucas McCain's house with his mother who was oblivious to her son's nefarious activities. While there, the mother has an attack and is only given a short time to live by the doctor. The criminal is about to confess to his mother that he was a wanted criminal. However, just before he is able to, Lucas jumps into the conversation and confesses to being the criminal instead. He later tells the criminal that he didn't do that for him, implying it was the sake of his dying mother.

I have seen many shows and movies where something similar happens with a dying person being told a lie. It's usually done because they want the person to die happy rather than sad. While I can understand the motive behind this, I have always been uncomfortable with it. After examining why I felt this way, I realized what my concerns were.

If a person simply dies, never to be alive again in an afterlife, then it really doesn't matter if the person is told a terrible truth. Once they are dead, they will never be able to fret over it anyway. On the other hand, if there is an afterlife, then the recipient of the lie will most likely discover the deception as soon as they cross over and may be disappointed in, or even angry at, the liar. So, it seems to me there is no good reason for lying to the dying to spare their feelings. It will either do absolutely no good or bring harm to a relationship.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Wild River

I found the 1960 movie Wild River to be intriguing. The movie is about an employee of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) who is tasked with arranging the purchase of various tracts of privately owned land that would be flooded once a dam was built on the Tennessee River. While performing his duties, he encounters an elderly lady who is intent on thwarting TVA’s plan to obtain her property.

One of my favorite parts of the movie is when the TVA man shows up at the elderly property owner's house. The old woman begins asking one of the farm hands how much he wants for his dog. He responds by saying that he didn’t want to sell his dog. She tells him that she wasn’t asking if he wanted to sell, she was telling him he had to sell. She just needed to know how much he wanted. The banter continues until the man tells her she doesn't have the right to make him sell his dog. She then relents and says he is correct. And just like she didn't have the right to make him sell his dog, the government didn't have the right to make her sell her property, even though they were going to give her “fair” compensation.

The conflict between the private and the public realm of civilized life is a longstanding one. This was made clear to me while watching the first episode of Ken Burns: National Parks - America's Best Idea. Back when the National Park system was just beginning, there was great debate concerning whether it was within the authority of the US Congress to take control of large tracts of land for the purpose of preserving it for all people, present and future. Many believed that the senators and representatives were overstepping their bounds and hampering American entrepreneurship and business. Others felt that without the protection of government, greed would drive individuals to exploit some of the most scenic spots in the country. They pointed to Niagara Falls (as it was mid-19th century) as an example.

Wow! This is one of those tough issues for me. When I think about it, I can feel my inner self being torn apart. It’s as though some of the most liberal and some of the most conservative congresspersons have become body snatchers and have picked me as their victim. I am a very strong advocate of free enterprise where people are allowed to build businesses and compete in the open marketplace for customers without interference from the government. Free enterprise is what has elevated the common man in many countries to a standard of living only kings could have dreamed about 500 years ago. If a regular ole Joe from that era could come back and see how millions upon millions of people live today, he would be overwhelmed and probably quite envious.

Yet I have visited many of the US National Parks and am totally enthralled with them. I can identify with the words of John Muir when I saw Yosemite Valley: “No temple made with hands can compare with Yosemite... The grandest of all special temples of Nature.” Who could want this place, thought by many to be the most beautiful place on earth, to be denuded by a few people for their own gain? Yet I, like Ayn Rand, also see the beauty of the manmade. I look in awe at the Empire State Building just as I look in awe at Half Dome.

It would seem that there must be some sort of balance between the public and the private when it comes to land. I just find it extremely hard to put my finger on where the dividing line is. I will talk about this further in future posts.

Psalm 135

Last week in Sunday School, we studied Psalm 135. In this psalm we are told that God is good and great, greater than all other gods. We also discover that God does whatever pleases him, both in the heavens and on the earth. This information presents quite a conundrum. In what sense can God be considered good if he does whatever he finds pleasing?

Some say that only good things please God. If this be so, then where does the standard of good and bad come from? To say that God only chooses to do good implies that there is a standard apart from God that he chooses to adhere to. But where would that standard come from?

To get around the problem of an external standard of good and evil, some say that God’s actions define what is good. In other words, God can do anything that pleases him and, by definition, it is good. Thus, God can choose to create people, protect them, give them nice things, etc. and all these things are good. But on the other hand, God can kill people, order people to kill other people, allow heinous things to happen, etc. and God is still good. Why? Because God can do whatever is pleasing in his own eyes and it is all good! Don’t you wish this applied to you?

Many years ago as my wife and I were leaving my in-laws house, my father-in-law said, “Be good!” I answered, “I will … according to my own standards.” We had a good laugh, but that is what we are asked to believe about God. Anything he does is good, by fiat. Even if we believe the action is horrendous, terrifying, gory, sick, or insane, it is good. Even if the same action would be considered the worse kind of evil had a man done it, it should still be considered good if God does it. This just doesn’t sit well with me. Yet, if it is not true, then we are back to accepting that there is a standard of good and evil that exists independent of God. Where would this standard come from? A higher God? Then by what standard does that God live?

It seems to me, whether we like it or not, the standard of good and evil comes about by a consensus of people. This involves much discussion with differing sides presenting their reasons for claiming a particular action to be either good or evil. Hopefully the most rational thinking will win the minds of the majority.

To illustrate how consensus shifts, look at the issue of slavery. In the ancient world slavery was accepted as normal, even moral behavior. Even the writers of the Bible viewed it as such. God sometimes commanded, or condoned, the enslavement of certain people (e.g. Gen 9:26, Lev 25:44-45, Num 31:15-18). Yet, as humans progressed, more and more people began to view slavery as evil. A few people, religious and non-religious alike, began making rational arguments against the practice and slowly things began to change. As public mores shifted, believers began to view slavery as evil and began to seek out verses in their holy writ that agreed with this sentiment. Now slavery is anathema to most people in the US as well as many other nations around the world. Yet there remain some countries that still practice slavery legally.

Since morality in the real world comes about through the consensus of the people, it is very important for rational people to be fully engaged in the debate lest we fall back into the brutal morality of the past.